Studying to Serve, or, On Not Being a Self-Centered Idiot

November 7th, 2009

There is a difference between simply studying and being a disciple.  The same is true on the teaching side.  Why do we do what we do, and what kind of fruit are we seeking?

I love to study.  To read.  To learn.  I’m like many theology-reading, coffee-shop-dwelling, blog-haunting, podcast-devouring twenty-somethings.

It can be a source of pride.  Forget justification by works–we’ve got justification by podcast.  You want to see fruit?  Just look at the list of people who I read & listen to.  Impressive, no?

Studying Well

Do we study to master the information?  To delight in fascinating controversy?  To best opponents?

Or do we study to see God more clearly, to love him more truly?  Know him, to depend on his promises, and to stop living in small-minded, self-centered ways?  Do we study to look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere in pure, undefiled religion before God?  To see and hear Christ, and act?  To rein in spiteful tongues, to speak blessing & encouragement, and to love those who need it most?  (James 1:22-27)

Do we study like this?

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

[...]

If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

2 Timothy 2:14-26

The study that God desires is study that bears fruit, in my own life and in others’.

The Test of a Spiritual Gift

I fancy myself as one with the spiritual gift of teaching.  I certainly enjoy knowledge, and I enjoy explaining things.  But why?  Is it because I enjoy the sound of my own voice?  Being recognized and praised?

A spiritual gift, Paul says, is a way that the Spirit of God works through us for the benefit of everyone–encouragement, and comfort, and service, and love, building each other up, caring for one another.  When it involves a talent, it is not simply a talent.  It is a talent harnessed. Harnessed to the work of the Master, the Savior, the Good Shepherd.  The Comforter.  It’s the Spirit, doing his work through us.

I do not want to be a self-involved Explorer of Theology, going out to explore the worlds of thought, bringing back nuggets of conceptual gold to be admired.  Not a mere lecturer.  I want to be a better friend, a true friend.  I want to walk through life with people I love.  I want my study and my teaching to be in a community, for a community.  I want to wrestle together, and to learn from my brothers and sisters.  I want to speak comfort and blessing.  I want to be involved in the lives of my friends.  I want to help where I can, and receive the help I need.

If I must boast or feel pride, I want to measure success in lives.  In my impact on people.  In ministry of grace from God.

That is a spiritual gift.  That is walking like Christ, in the Spirit.

To Sum Up: The Parable of the Ten Minas

Our sermon last Sunday was on a version of the parable of the talents, recorded by Luke, told when Jesus was about to enter Jerusalem.  Jesus spoke about the time we live in now, waiting for the king to return.

Jesus compared us to servants, who were given an amount of money, and told to engage in business till his return.  He showed us that we are supposed to take what God has given us, and put it to work.  To serve God’s interests.  To bear fruit.  To be faithful with what we have.

There’s something ugly about the lazy servant, the useless servant, who did nothing with what he was given.  Who did not serve.  And it’s so weird that we should ever be reluctant.  What could possibly be better & more satisfying than doing things his way?  What could be better than beholding God, worshipping him, and blessing people?

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, [2] a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, [3] he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant [4] must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

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